Wilson, Verity. 'Early Textiles from Central Asia: Approaches to Study with reference to the Stein Loan Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London', Textile History 26 (1) . Devon: David & Charles/Pasold Research Fund Ltd, 1995, pp.23-52.
Stein, Aurel, Sir. Innermost Asia; Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia, Kan-Su and Eastern Iran, 4 vols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928), vol. I, p. 251; vol. III, pl. XLIV.
Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.
150 BC - 0060 AD (made)
Hand-knotted polychrome woollen pile on wool warp and weft showing linear design and single hook motif.
Length: 30.7 cm, Width: 13.4 cm
The International Exhibition of Chinese Art (Royal Academy of Arts 01/01/1935-31/12/1936)
Loulan was once an important garrison town which lay between the Pei shan and Taklamakan deserts on the Silk Road. The city was also a centre of Buddhist worship. When Sven Hedin explored the site in 1900, he discovered remains of a stupa, reliefs depicting Buddhas among lotuses, and statues of deities. This strategically important city is mentioned in Chinese records for the first time in 176 BC with the conquest by the Xiongnu, but the area fell under Chinese control around 100 BC. Located in the middle of the Silk Road, Loulan had contacts with many cultures, represented by hundreds of documents in Chinese, Indian Kharosthi, and Sogdian scripts which were unearthed by Hedin and Stein. A woollen cloth, which Stein found in a tomb, depicted the head of Hermes and his caduceus, or staff, in the classical style of western Asia. He also unearthed a number of mummies with feathered felt caps and arrow shafts by their sides; which indicated that a community of herdsmen and hunters had inhabited the region long before various imperial conquests. Loulan flourished until the fourth century AD, when it was abandoned, due to the desiccation of a nearby lake, Lop Nor. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of textiles from Loulan, including cotton, wool and figured silks, carpet and tapestry fragments.
One large piece of polychrome woollen pile carpet made of plain woven wool yarn warp and pale pink/ yellowish weft with rows of knots of brown, pink, red, pale green and green, yellow, pale blue and blue wool. The fragment shows a section across several bands of design, including a narrow border of single hook motif.
(warp): off-white (mostly non-pigmented): Hairy Medium fleece type, based on the following measurements of fibre diameters (in microns): range 10-87, mode 20, mean±S.D 26.9±14.1, coefficient of skew +1.04 (skewed to positive), 10% medullated fibres, 10% pigmented (coarse fibres only). (from "Aurel Stein fibres 1")
goat hair, identified from (i) fine non-medullated fibres with regular waved mosaic scale pattern and smooth distant margins; and (ii) coarser fibres with concentric medullae and a closer scale pattern that includes some crenate-rippled margins. (from "Aurel Stein fibres 1")
Dye analysis 1:
Color detected: red
Compounds detected: alizarin and purpurin
Possible dye source: madder root
Dye analysis 2:
Pigment detected: purpurin only. Interpretation: munjeet (Indian madder) Rubia cordifolia L.
Excavated from, or found near, the grave-pits of Loulan cemetery. Radio carbon date received 27 June 2008 from The ångström laboratory, University of Uppsala, Sweden.
This hand-knotted woollen pile carpet shows a pattern arranged in bands in brown, pink, red, pale green and green, yellow, pale blue and blue wool, including a narrow border of single hook motif. It is unclear what this textile would have been used for, although it is likely to have had a decorative purpose as well as a utilitarian function. It was recovered from the cemetery of Loulan. The site of Loulan is remarkable for the carved wooden capitals, beams and balustrades that show clear affinities with western Classical decoration that filtered through Iran and Northwest India.
The sites are part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road, a series of overland trade routes that crossed Asia, from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk. Camels and horses were used as pack animals and merchants passed the goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. Whilst silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.
This textile was brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). The V&A has around 650 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.